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JSD looks at minimum $3-6M deficit for FY 2013

Posted: November 17, 2011 - 1:06am

The Juneau School District fiscal year 2013 Budget Committee got its first look at the budgeting process for the upcoming school year Wednesday night, and the district is projecting a minimum of a $3 million to $6 million deficit.

The deficit figure does not include enrollment projections or more exact increasing costs — and there are expected to be increases. October enrollment numbers were sent by District Administrative Services Director David Means to the district’s consultant, who annually projects high, middle, and low enrollment numbers based upon a number of local factors. Means expects to have those projections within a week or two.

What makes the budgeting process fluid are several factors — the state Legislature will be considering what funding level to provide for all schools in the state via base student allocations. Last year the Legislature did not approve an increase. It did give extra funding for career education — but those were one-time funds and are not expected to make legislative rounds again this year.

Another factor is the City and Borough of Juneau. The city has historically approved not only the minimum funding required per pupil, but also the maximum funding allowed by law for many years. The minimum projection the city will provide this year is about $13.7 million. The additional amount it’s providing this year is $11.7 million — and this doesn’t include activity funding.

Juneau is facing a $7.5 million combined deficit for the next two fiscal years and one Assembly member — Karen Crane — said at the Assembly’s recent retreat the school district has been held harmless in city cuts in the past and that cuts to district funding shouldn’t be off the table. Whether reducing funding from the city to the schools is supported across a majority of the Assembly has yet to be seen, but so far the district’s budget projections include the assumption of maximum funding.

The budget the committee is looking at is $86.4 million — down from the FY12 budget of $89.4 million.

Another big factor in the budget is the district’s two largest bargaining units’ contracts are up for negotiation.

Last year the district initially looked at a deficit of $4 million to $6 million, and at the end of the budget session the crunch settled to about $4.1 million.

The deficit thus far comes in part from a reduction in revenues. Last year the district saw one-time funds from the state of $737,000. It also had $1.7 million of additional fund balance from the year prior. In the last budget crunching session those funds were used.

Other funds ending include grants — federal funding from the Transitions II grant, Goldbelt contracts and the Education Jobs bill. Those three funding sources account for about $1.3 million. That accounts for the low end of the deficit projection of $3 million. The other end of the spectrum could see that level depending upon increases.

Assistant Superintendent Laury Scandling said the district is applying for the Transitions III grant, however even if the district gets the funds, that won’t apply to the issues facing budget planning. The district didn’t find out it had received the Transitions II grant until school started. The budget needs to be in the hands of the city Assembly by March 30 — per city charter.

Barbara Thurston, school board member, is chairing the committee. Its 17 members include board members, bargaining unit representatives and public citizens.
“We need to consider and balance the needs of all the students in the district,” Thurston said. “We’re looking at cuts that are going to be along the lines of what we did last year. We’re going to have some cuts and they’re going to hurt. We have to look at all the various options, ways we can balance our money, and meet the needs of various students.”

She urged the committee to do its homework and ask a lot of questions.

“One thing we’re going to try to do this year is start by building a budget from the ground up,” Thurston said. “We’re going to start from the bottom. We have $80 million dollars or so, how do we best meet the needs of our 5,000 students? Last year we spent such and such amount of money. We need to think about, if we had cash in hand is this the way we would spent it? Or would we spend the money differently to get better results? We’re not going to say cuts across the board.”

Thurston said because some of the fluid pieces of the budget — legislative funding, enrollment, city funding — are likely to be finalized after their budget deadline, they need to prepare a basic budget. Thurston compared it to construction projects — what the committee needs to do is create a basic needs budget and list “add ons” — things that will be funded if funding comes through.

Superintendent Glenn Gelbrich gave a budget message, emphasizing the district’s mission of “each one, every one” for each student to graduate and be prepared to “succeed in a variety of post-secondary pursuits.”

Gelbrich said despite the initial projected deficit — which is likely to increase — the district still needs to complete its mission.

“We hope to hear ideas from our stakeholders about their priorities and suggestions for enhanced student success when resources are diminishing,” Gelbrich said. “...Last year, we were faced with difficult decisions that strained relationships within our schools and within our community. In the end, we were able to reach agreement and adopt a budget using the limited resources available. We have similarly difficult decisions ahead in this process.”

Thurston said the committee is scheduled to meet eight times, two of those meetings (Jan. 17 and Feb. 14) will not take public comment. The committee doesn’t meet again this year, and meets next on Jan. 17, 2012. That first meeting back the committee will see a draft budget proposal from administration. The rest of that meeting will focus on committee discussion and questions. Feb. 14, the second meeting that will not take public testimony, will feature the second draft of the proposed budget.

For a full meeting schedule, meeting materials and past budget documents see bit.ly/sVQyod.

• Contact reporter Sarah Day at 523-2279 or at sarah.day@juneauempire.com.

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